Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Executions in NM

There seems to be a lot of confusion concenring the last execution in the state before child-killer Terry Clark was killed in November 2001. Even proponents of HB285 have said recently that Clark was the first "since 1961."

Not true. The previous execution was the gas chamber death of David Cooper Nelson on Jan. 8 1960.

Here's a little history: Between 1913, when New Mexico became a state and 1933, 20 people were executed by hanging. During that period, executions were the responsibility of individual counties. Accordng to Myth of the Hanging Tree (2008) by former state historian Robert J. Torrez, only one of those took place in Santa Fe county, Elbert W. Blancett, who was hung July 9, 1920. (But there were several men hung in Santa Fe during the Territorial period.)

In 1933, the state took over the execution business. There were n more hangings. It was the age of electricity.
Was Thomas Johnson framed?
Here's a list of all those executions:

* July 21, 1933: Two men die in the state's new electric chair. The first was Thomas Johnson, a black man convicted of killing 18-year-old Angelina Jaramillo, who had been raped and killed in her Santa Fe home. Through the years some have claimed that Johnson was framed by authorities. Author Ralph Melnick wrote a book called Justice Betrayed (2002) in which he argues Johnson was innocent and the guiilty party was part of the victim's family.

* July 21, 1933: Santiago Garduno was executed the same day as Johnson. He was convicted of murdering his stepson. Garduno gave the boy a drink of whiskey laced with strychnine.

*May 10, 1946: Pedro Talamonte, who was convicted in Gallup of murdering his 25-year-old wife.

* June 13, 1947: Louis Young was the second black man accused of killing a white or Hispanic Santa Fe woman to die in the electric chair. Young was a prison inmate who worked as personal handyman at the prison warden's home which was near the victim's house. Young confessed to the crime following a late-night visit to his cell by authorities, though he soon recanted, saying the confession was forced. Despite efforts by civil rights organizations throughout the state, Young was executed.

*Feb. 19, 1954: Arthur Johnson , who was convicted of murdering and robbing a Hobbs man.

* Oct. 29, 1954: Frederick Heisler was convicted of murdering a man who had given him a ride hitchhiking.

* Feb. 24, 1956: James Larry Upton, who also was convicted of murdering a man who had given him a ride hitchhiking. According to newspaper accounts, several spectators at his electrocution were drunk and rowdy.

* Jan. 8, 1960: David Cooper Nelson was the first and only New Mexico inmate to die in the gas chamber. He was the third New Mexico inmate to be executed after being convicted of murdering a man who had given him a ride hitchhiking.

* Nov. 6, 2001: Terry Clark, who was convicted of the 1986 murder of 9-year-old Dena Lynn Gore in Artesia. Clark voluntarily halted his appeals process. He, so far, is the only New Mexico to be executed by lethal injection.